Venezuela crisis: Hunger makes people turn to rubbish for scraps

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A pregnant woman who did not want to be named holds a pineapple in one hand as she continues to pick through garbage bags outside a supermarket in downtown Caracas. Photo: AP


Caracas: Until recently, Julio Noguera worked at a bakery. Now he spends his evenings searching through the garbage for food.

“I come here looking for food because if I didn’t, I’d starve to death,” Noguera said as he sorted through a pile of mouldy potatoes. “With things like they are, no one helps anyone and no one gives away meals.”

Across town, unemployed people converge every dusk at a trash heap on a downtown Caracas sidewalk to pick through rotten fruit and vegetables tossed out by nearby shops. They are frequently joined by small business owners, college students and pensioners – people who consider themselves middle class even though their living standards have long been pulverised by triple-digit inflation, food shortages and a collapsing currency.

Venezuela’s poverty had eased during the administration of the late president Hugo Chavez. But a study by three leading Caracas universities found that 76 per cent of Venezuelans are now below the poverty line, compared with 52 per cent in 2014.

Staples such as corn flour and cooking oil are subsidised, costing pennies at the strongest of two official exchange rates. But fruit and vegetables have become an unaffordable luxury for many Venezuelan families.

“We’re seeing terrible sacrifices across many sections of society,” said Carlos Aponte, a sociology professor at the Central University of Venezuela. “A few years ago, Venezuela didn’t have the kind of extreme poverty that would drive people to eat garbage.”

Jhosriana Capote, a vocational student, comes to the trash heap to supplement her pantry. She recently completed an internship with a Coca-Cola subsidiary.

“I used to be able to find food, but not anymore. Everything is lines,” she said, after an evening picking through the refuse.

The government blames the political opposition, accusing it of waging an “economic war” to stir unrest and oust President Nicolas Maduro from power. The administration has launched an aggressive program to build urban farms in an effort to address food shortages.

Full article: Venezuela crisis: Hunger makes people turn to rubbish for scraps (The Age)

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